Some recent events illustrate the puzzling place of religion in Canadian life: A team of American academics declares that religion is on its way to extinction “up here” – just before 10 million people participate in Easter and Passover celebrations. Atheist signs make their latest appearance on buses in the Okanagan, about the same time as a Toronto media personality proclaims in a new book that “Catholics are right” about pretty much everything. Meantime, a federal election campaign inches toward a May 2 finish line, with scarcely a word spoken about religion.
After spending almost four decades monitoring religious developments in Canada, I think I’ve finally figured things out. But that’s for you to decide. A favourite sociologist of mine, Howard Becker, once said that a basic test of sound research is that people should be able to recognize themselves in the things we write about them.
For years, almost everyone has assumed that religion in Canada has been in a participation free fall. In the mid-1940s, our national weekly attendance level of 60 per cent was higher than that of the United States. When it dipped to 25 per cent in the mid-1980s, many felt it was en route to European-like levels of under 10 per cent.
Actually, that active core of 20 per cent to 25 per cent has not changed very much. The participation losses of mainline Protestants and Quebec Catholics have been offset by the gains of Catholics elsewhere, evangelical Protestants, and other groups, led by Muslims. Read more